Traditional, arranged marriages over the Internet. Try selling that to conservative and technology-shy Indian parents. Laughable. That's what the concept behind Shaadi.com must have seemed in the early 90's.
But Anupam Mittal, chairman & MD, People Group, isn't someone to be taken lightly. Proof? He took the concept, nursed it through it first tentative years and into full bloom.
Customer focus is his secret. His knowledge of his consumers makes it easy to see why he is taken seriously. It is this focus that has helped overcome low Internet and credit card penetration and the swift changes in technology. It is this focus that shows him gaps in his offering -- that he plug quickly, as he did with the Shaadi.com centers. Technology, he says, is indispensable -- but only if it is led by customer focus.
When you began Shaadi.com, the Internet was luxury in India. Didn't it seem like battle you could not win?
When we started, there wasn't really much to lose. All we wanted to do was to be in the consumer Internet space. We set out to explore and try different things. That's how Shaadi.com came about. In fact, when the company was started, I was not even in the country. I was abroad working for another company.
Technically, we started Shaadi.com 10 years ago, but I think, for all practical purposes, we really started focusing as an organization and building out with great purpose only around 2002. That's when I started spending more time in the country and finally moved back to India in 2004.
In last six or seven years, we went from Shaadi.com to Fropper.com. We launched Makaan.com more recently. A number of different and interesting business models came up. We also started Mauj Mobile along the way, which is a leading mobile VAS (value added services) player in the country with a strong mobile marketing business. Now, we are in the film production business.
The journey has been exciting, painful, challenging, and frustrating at the same time. When I look back, 10 years have been a great journey. To me it seems so short. Through it all, I observed that technology has played a critical role in all the areas we are in. If convergence or digitization had not occurred around the time we started our businesses, then we wouldn't have been able to do the things we have done. I must say that we have been very opportunistic in building our businesses.
That said, if you ask me if I think about technology, my answer would probably be no. I think about my consumers, their behavior and what they want. But, I can say, without a doubt, that without technology we wouldn't have been where we are today.
E-commerce has taken time to take off. Was that a major challenge to your business?
No doubt poor connectivity, low bandwidth and a lack of credit card penetration were major challenges when we started our Internet-related businesses. However, when we started Shaadi.com, most of our revenue actually came from NRIs. The number of resident Indians who used the platform at that point was low compared to NRIs, thanks to India's e-commerce-related challenges.
Over the years, this has changed. A significant portion of our revenues come from within the country. But still the conversion rate in India is a major challenge as most Indians can't pay online because don't have credit cards. This continues to be an issue we grapple with. To tackle it, we introduced different modes of payment. We have tied-up with banks so that they can accept payments on our behalf and we pickup of payments at a customer's doorstep.
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